Short Story Highlight: “A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight” by Xia Jia
Clarkesworld Magazine this months features A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight by Xia Jia, translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu:
Awakening of Insects, the Third Solar Term:
Ghost Street is long but narrow, like an indigo ribbon. You can cross it in eleven steps, but to walk it from end to end takes a full hour.
At the western end is Lanruo Temple, now fallen into ruin. Inside the temple is a large garden full of fruit trees and vegetable patches, as well as a bamboo grove and a lotus pond. The pond has fish, shrimp, dojo loaches, and yellow snails. So supplied, I have food to eat all year.
It’s evening, and I’m sitting at the door to the main hall, reading a copy of Huainanzi, the Han Dynasty essay collection, when along comes Yan Chixia, the great hero, vanquisher of demons and destroyer of evil spirits. He’s carrying a basket on the crook of his elbow, the legs of his pants rolled all the way up, revealing calves caked with black mud. I can’t help but laugh at the sight.
My teacher, the Monk, hears me and walks out of the dark corner of the main hall, gears grinding, and hits me on the head with his ferule.
I hold my head in pain, staring at the Monk in anger. But his iron face is expressionless, just like the statues of buddhas in the main hall. I throw down the book and run outside, while the Monk pursues me, his joints clanking and creaking the whole time. They are so rusted that he moves as slow as a snail.
I stop in front of Yan, and I see that his basket contains several new bamboo shoots, freshly dug from the ground.
“I want to eat meat,” I say, tilting my face up to look at him. “Can you shoot some buntings with your slingshot for me?”
“Buntings are best eaten in the fall, when they’re fat,” says Yan. “Now is the time for them to breed chicks. If you shoot them, there won’t be buntings to eat next year.”
“Just one, pleaaaaase?” I grab onto his sleeve and act cute. But he shakes his head resolutely, handing me the basket. He takes off his conical sedge hat and wipes the sweat off his face.
I laugh again as I look at him. His face is as smooth as an egg, with just a few wisps of curled black hair like weeds that have been missed by the gardener. Legend has it that his hair and beard used to be very thick, but I’m always pulling a few strands out now and then as a game. After so many years, these are all the hairs he has left.
“You must have died of hunger in a previous life,” Yan says, cradling the back of my head in his large palm. “The whole garden is full of food for you. No one is here to fight you for it.”
I make a face at him and take the basket of food. – continue reading!
About the author:
As an undergraduate, Ms. Xia majored in Atmospheric Sciences at Peking University. She then entered the Film Studies Program at the Communication University of China, where she completed her Master’s thesis: “The Representation of Women in Science Fiction Films.” Currently, she’s pursuing a Ph. D. in Comparative Literature and World Culture at Peking University. She has been publishing science fiction and fantasy since 2004 in a variety of venues, including Science Fiction World and Jiuzhou Fantasy. Several of her stories have won the Milky Way, China’s most prestigious science fiction award. Besides writing and translating science fiction stories, she also writes film scripts. (In accordance with Chinese custom, Ms Xia’s surname is listed first on this story.)
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